You can see what writer-director Richard Levine is going for with Every Day, a movie that wants to capture an American marriage in all its mundane detail.
Well, strike that -- while this is an American marriage, it involves a highly privileged couple. They live in the Long Island suburbs; father Ned (Liev Schreiber) is a writer for a lurid night-time soap (that looks like it could be a second cousin of Nip/Tuck, Levine's alma mater). He obviously makes enough that wife Jeannie (Helen Hunt) doesn't have to work, though she wants to.
Still, Levine wants to show that even the affluent have problems that stretch beyond the bounds of what money can solve. Ned is embarrassed by his job - and tense because his producer, Garrett (Eddie Izzard), keeps rejecting his scripts as boring, even as he demands at least four major shocking moments per episode.
Ned is also uncomfortable with the fact that his older son, Jonah (Ezra Miller), is both gay and out - and wants to attend a gay prom. But Ned can't actually bring himself to talk about this with Jonah, though he keeps threatening to.
Meanwhile, Jeannie has just returned from the Midwest with her depressive father, Ernie (Brian Dennehy), who is wheelchair-bound and incontinent. His medical issues have reached a level where Jeannie has brought him back east to live with the family, so she can take care of his declining medical condition -- despite the fact that he has only ever criticized and otherwise deflated her.
And that's pretty much it. Levine wants to make this period -- of transition, of adjustment, of coming to terms with the way life has suddenly become -- significant. Yet he expects the behavior of the characters and the things that happen to them to carry all the weight, without creating much of a plot.
In the world Levine has created, these people aren't able to articulate their feelings with any real clarity. We're expected to watch the repetitive, grinding lives in which they temporarily find themselves stuck and extract the greater meaning for ourselves.
Certainly, we've had too many movies like this, where people suddenly announce their feelings with note-perfect expression. They not only understand their own feelings but they're able to explain them to the people closest to them, who, up to that moment, have been too self-absorbed to notice.
But Levine errs by going too far in the opposite direction. Even when Ned strays with a coworker, played with juicy enjoyment by Carla Gugino, he mostly looks glum and, aside from an early effort to turn her down, doesn't seem to either learn anything or suffer any consequences for his actions.
Levine has similar problems with the grandfather Ernie, who Dennehy strips of all lovable qualities. He's an old pain in the ass, who thinks nothing about kvetching loudly in public about how much a rash is making his balls itch. And yet he's able to calmly explain legato to his violin-playing grandson.
Hunt and Schreiber are both strong actors who, here, make the most of the little they've been given. Which means that they both spend much of the film looking clenched and miserable.
Every Day swims in mock profundity and has the feel of a movie made specifically for a forgiving festival audience. Its good intentions are largely wasted.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine